ASBMB members meet with lawmakers on the Hill

In 48 meetings, scientists advocated for budget increases for NIH, NSF and DOE and for the protection of fundamental research
Marissa Locke Rottinghaus
May 18, 2023

Sixteen members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from 16 states met with elected officials and their staffers in a total of 48 meetings on Wednesday during the society’s annual Capitol Hill day.

Members of the ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee went to the nation’s capital to make sure lawmakers understand the importance of protecting and sustainably funding fundamental research. In particular, they advocated for budget increases for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy Office of Science.

Nadia Laniyan, a staffer for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., met with ASBMB President Ann Stock, ASBMB Science Policy Manager Raechel McKinley, and Public Affairs Advisory Committee member Kevin Gardner on Wednesday.

“These ASBMB members are all very engaged and passionate about advocating not just for science funding but for the people who are doing science,” Sarina Neote, public affairs director of the ASBMB, said. “They advocate for their labs and for the students that they are training. I am very excited that we are able to collaborate and hopefully change some hearts and minds on Capitol Hill.”

This year’s visit to Washington came at an extremely important time. Congressional subcommittees are meeting this week to negotiate NIH, NSF and DOE appropriations.

“It is a great time for our advocates to communicate what kind of work is crucial to fund at specific government agencies,” Neote said.

Participants reported that the Democratic and Republican lawmakers with whom they met expressed support for the U.S. scientific enterprise.

Robust funding for key science funding agencies

The 2024 budget was front and center during all the congressional meetings. The ASBMB members emphasized that the budgets of NIH, NSF and DOE must increase to sustain the U.S. scientific enterprise.

PAAC members Shantá D. Hinton, left, and Karen Lewis meet with Brent Robinson, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., on Wednesday.

Rick Page, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Miami University in Ohio and chair of the ASBMB PAAC, said he shared how “necessary sustainable investments in science are in order to keep the U.S. globally competitive in research and development.”

Specifically, the ASBMB members asked their senators and representatives to:

  • Protect fundamental scientific research funding.

  • Maintain separation of funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) from the NIH core budget.

  • Ensure funding for the NSF’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, or TIP, boosts, not replaces, fundamental research funding.  

  • Appropriate $3.56 billion for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, $50.9 billion for the NIH base budget, $12 billion for the NSF and $8.8 billion for the DOE Office of Science.

The ASBMB’s recommendation of $50.9 billion for the NIH base budget represents a 5% increase across all institutes and centers, which is consistent with past NIH budget trends. Importantly, $3.56 billion for NIGMS represents a 10% increase for the institute. Even though NIGMS is the largest funder of fundamental science research, the institute's budget has not increased at a rate similar to other institutes'. Over the past decade, its budget has increased only 21%, whereas other institutes’ budgets have gone up more than 40%.

The ASBMB recommended $8.8 billion for the DOE Office of Science because it is the largest supporter of fundamental research in the physical sciences in the U.S.

Seeking common ground on  science

The participating ASBMB members hail from states across the U.S., and they met with policymakers on both sides of the aisle.

Steve Caplan, a professor of medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Jill Johnson, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Idaho, spoke with staffers for U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican from Nebraska with a track record of supporting science funding.

Mary Lipton, a staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, met with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Murray has been a strong supporter of scientific research and helped pass the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act of 2022, better known as the CHIPS and Science Act.

Ron Wek, left, and Rick Page met with U.S. Sen. Mike Braun on Wednesday.

“(The CHIPS and Science) legislation sends a clear message that we are making things in America again and that we will continue to lead the world in manufacturing while creating good-paying jobs here at home,” Murray said in remarks about the act.

Ron Wek, a professor of biochemistry at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and Page met with Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., who has supported some efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change and promote science research. For example, he sponsored the Apply the Science Act 2.0, legislation promoting research on COVID-19 immunity.

Ann West, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma, spoke with staffers working for Sens. James Lankford and Markwayne Mullin as well as Rep. Tom Cole, both Republicans from Oklahoma.

Given that the overarching theme of Hill Day was protecting fundamental science research funding, West said she tried to convince policymakers and their staffers to “support basic research to fuel translational research down the road.” 

Safeguarding fundamental research

ASBMB scientists asked policymakers and their offices to allocate funds outlined in the CHIPs and Science Act, which aimed to lower the cost of science in the U.S., for the NSF TIP directorate.

Neote said the society wants to ensure that funding the TIP directorate will not take away funds for fundamental science research.

Toni Antalis, a past ASBMB president and a professor of physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Nick Rhind, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biotechnology at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, met with Sen. Chis Van Hollen, D-Md., and his staff. Van Hollen has been a strong supporter of fundamental science diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

In addition, ASBMB members spoke about the importance of keeping the ARPA-H budget separate from that of the rest of NIH to protect fundamental research funding in other sectors of the agency.

ASBMB President Ann Stock, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Rutgers University, and Kevin Gardner, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at City College of New York Advanced Science Research Center, had a full day of meetings with policymakers from New Jersey and New York.

Gardner said one of his goals was to convey his appreciation for all the policymakers who back fundamental science. “I just want to say thank you and convey my gratitude for their support of scientific research,” Gardner said.

ASBMB PAAC member Nicholas Rhind and Toni Antalis, the society's immediate past president, meet with U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D.-Md., and members of his staff.

Science hangs in the balance

Finally, the ASBMB scientists urged policymakers participating in debt-ceiling negotiations to preserve funding for scientific funding agencies.

Matt Gentry, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, met with staff in the office of Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn.

Emily Pitsch, a graduate student at the University of Utah, and Jeff Wilusz, a professor of RNA biology and virology at Colorado State University, met with Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, and others.

Green and Moore both voted in favor of the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023, which, if passed, would reduce federal spending to fiscal year 2022 levels and, in doing so, cut nondefense discretionary funding to the NIH, NSF and DOE by 22%.

Pitsch is the only graduate student member of the PAAC. “I think scientific funding in general has been a little bit politicized, and it tends to be separated on party lines,” Pitsch said. “But, I believe Republicans and Democrats alike can both get behind scientific funding. Hopefully, I can convey my perspective being a young scientist in today’s economy.”

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Marissa Locke Rottinghaus

Marissa Locke Rottinghaus is the science writer for the ASBMB.

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